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Kiss of The Dragon Review

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Crack Chinese cop Lui Jian touches down in Paris and within hours is framed for murder, with only a chatty whore and a vital videotape to save him. That and his prowess at kung fu. But out for his blood is the real crook, a French policeman…

★★★★★

For a good half-hour, this middle-order action/kung fu fusion of Jet Li's edgy indomitability and producer Luc Besson's sleek Gallic stylings looks to be the business.

Tantalisingly offering not a drop of exposition, a sustained set-piece follows our diminutive but evidently indestructible Chinese secret operative Liu Jian into a French hotel to meet up with a French cop - one look at Richard's goatee and we're onto the fact he's a real bad-egg. They're there to watch over the arrival of a Chinese diplomat; an almighty surge of flipped-out whores, blurring Uzis, grenades, laundry chutes and big beat techno later, and our man's framed and on the run in the City Of Light.

Then the plot arrives and the film becomes moronic as the script refuses to explain itself. What is Richard's connection with the Chinese? Why has he bothered abducting the child of immigrant hooker Jessica as collateral, when he kills everyone else? And why doesn't anyone bother to just dispose of incriminating evidence instead of locking it in a drawer?

The fighting is gruff and energetic, but lazily mounted. There's no flashy visual mechanic to lift it above '70s chopsocky; director Nahon can barely keep up with his star's whirling fists as it is. Jet Li is a marvel with his balletic deadliness and blinkless scowls, but as he works his way through an increasingly grimacing, peroxided and buffed brigade of bad guys with more and more elaborate martial jousting, it just beggars the question: why doesn't someone just shoot him?

Paris shimmers away seductively - the setting, at least, spills over with menace - and the film is good enough not to dawdle. Fonda, too, has an easy charm despite lumbering about with the studied shabbiness of 'an actress playing a prostitute'. But the only reason to take in Kiss Of The Dragon (a reference to Li's cheeky acupuncture skills in combat) is the man's super-charged gravitas. Keep him in frame and you'll have a superstar.

Li's mix of innocence and a mean, roundhouse kick make him interesting to watch, but the dramatic scenes never stretch him and even the kung fu bits feel overly choreographed. Bridget Fonda is criminally underused as a hooker with a heart of gold. One for dedicated Li fans only.